Sudan protesters mass as standoff with military drags on
Protest leaders say army generals are not serious about handing power to civilians
Khartoum — Crowds of Sudanese demonstrators began converging outside the army headquarters in Khartoum on Thursday for a “million-strong” march to press for a civilian administration after talks with military rulers ran into trouble.
The two sides have agreed to form a joint civilian-military council to rule Sudan but are at odds over its composition.
The proposed joint council is to replace the existing 10-member governing body of army generals that took over after the military ousted veteran president Omar al-Bashir three weeks ago.
But protest leaders from the Alliance for Freedom and Change say the generals are not serious about handing power to civilians.
The army has been pushing for a 10-member council of seven military representatives and three civilians. The alliance is demanding a council made up of eight civilians and seven generals.
The disagreement prompted the alliance to announce a “million-strong march to assert our main demand, which is for civilian rule”.
The call has exacerbated tensions between the two sides.
“We expect the march to draw huge crowds,” Ahmed al-Rabia, a leader from the protest movement said.
Protest leaders said they were handing the military a proposal for the new civilian structures they want to see rule the country eventually, including “a sovereign council, the executive and the legislative bodies”.
As the wrangling with the army persisted, crowds of demonstrators flocked to the protest site in central Khartoum to join the thousands who have remained camped there round-the-clock for weeks.
The military council has warned it will not allow chaos and urged protesters to dismantle makeshift barricades they have set up around the main protest hub outside army headquarters.
It also demanded demonstrators open roads and bridges blocked by protesters who have remained outside the headquarters despite Bashir’s departure.
Witnesses said that the bulk of the crowd was expected to converge at the protest site only later in the day, when the worst of the midday heat had passed.
But the protesters camped in the square kept up a festive atmosphere with loudspeakers blaring out revolutionary songs and vendors selling fruit and peanuts.
In a bid to get their differing views across the military and protester leaders held separate news conferences on Tuesday.
“The military council is not serious about handing over power to civilians,” said Mohamed Naji al-Assam, a leader of the Sudanese Professionals Association spearheading the protests.
In an interview on Wednesday, Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan’s former premier and political opponent of Bashir, warned protest leaders against provoking the military.
“If we provoke the armed forces which contributed to the change, we would be asking for trouble,” said Mahdi, whose National Umma Party is part of the protest movement.
The military council’s deputy head, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo , has said it is “committed to negotiations but will allow no chaos”.
Hamdan, widely known as Himeidti, spoke of incidents since the protests first broke out in December including looting and burning of markets. He said six security personnel were killed during protests across the country on Monday.
The spokesperson of the military council Shamseddin al-Kabbashi said the armed forces must remain in the sovereign council because of tensions facing the country.
The announcement on the joint civilian-military council on Saturday was seen as a breakthrough aimed at paving the way for detailed negotiations on a roadmap for the formation of a civilian government.
Rabia said that no date had been set for further talks with the military council to iron out their remaining differences.
The protesters have won support from Western governments for their demands. But Gulf Arab states have provided the military council with a $3bn credit lifeline to support an orderly transition.
The AU on Tuesday gave Sudan’s military rulers another 60 days to hand over power to a civilian authority or face suspension, after an earlier deadline was missed.